Roosevelt elk roam the bluffs above Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The California Coastal Trail at its most magnificent! (Photo SF Wolfman, wikimedia)

Wildlife-watching, waterfalls and a wilderness beach are highlights of a hike along the northern reaches of Gold Bluffs Beach in Redwood National Park. While even one of these en route attractions makes for a compelling hike, the mere prospect of so many engaging environments can put a hiker into sensory overload before reaching the trailhead.

Gold Bluffs Beach and the hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park comprise one of those most inspiring lengths of the California Coastal Trail and I write about it with much enthusiasm in my narrative, “Hiking on the Edge: Dreams, Schemes and 1600 Miles on the California Coastal Trail.”

Gold Bluffs Beach (both bluffs and beach) is prime Roosevelt elk territory. While nearby elk-viewing opportunities abound, the creatures seem all the more majestic in this wilderness setting.

Roosevelt elk roam the bluffs above Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The California Coastal Trail at its most magnificent! (Photo SF Wolfman, wikimedia)
Roosevelt elk roam the bluffs above Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The California Coastal Trail at its most magnificent! (Photo SF Wolfman, wikimedia)

Waterfalls near the coast are a rarity, so the presence of three of them in close proximity to the California Coastal Trail is a special treat indeed. Gold Dust Falls, a long, slender tumbler, spills some 80 feet to the forest floor. An unnamed waterfall is located just south of Gold Dust; another is located just north.

The hike gets off to an amazing start near the mouth of Fern Canyon. Check out The Trailmaster’s description of the Fern Canyon Hike

This is an easy-moderate hike. From Fern Canyon to Gold Dust Falls is 2 miles round trip; to Butler Creek Backpack Camp is 4.5 miles round trip; to Ossagon Rocks is 6 miles round trip. No elevation gain to speak of.

In the case of this hike, the journey north from Gold Bluffs Beach overshadows the destination; nevertheless, the destination—the odd Ossagon Rocks—are intriguing in their own way. The rocks resemble sea stacks, though they’re positioned right at land’s end, not in their usual offshore location.

Directions: From Highway 101 in Orick, drive 2 miles north to signed Davison Road. Turn left (west) and proceed 7 miles to road’s end at Gold Beach and the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Fern Canyon trailhead.

The hike: Coastal Trail begins on the other side of Home Creek, an easy ford in summer, but may present a challenge during the rainy season. Usually a signpost on the north side of the creek shows the way to the start of Coastal Trail, as the California Coastal Trail is known in these parts.

Join the path for a brief meander through the forest then out across the grass-topped dunes. The hiker is often out of sight of the surf, but never altogether removed from its thunderous roll, even when the Coastal Trail strays 0.1 mile inland.

A mile out, the sound of falling water and an unsigned path forking right into the forest calls you to Coastal Trail’s first cascade, a long, wispy waterfall framed by ferns.

Another 0.25 mile along the main path leads to the short connector trail leading to Gold Dust Falls. A well-placed bench offers repose and a place to contemplate the inspiring cataract. A minute or so more down the main trail delivers you to another brief spur trail and the third of Coastal Trail’s cascades.

Coastal Trail edges from prairie to forest and reaches Butler Creek Camp, a hike-in retreat at 2.25 miles. The small camp is located at a convergence of environments—creekside alder woodland, a prairie matted with head-high native grasses, the creek mouth and the beach beyond.

Cross Butler Creek and travel the grassy sand verbena-topped prairie for a final 0.5 mile to cross Ossagon Creek and junction with Ossagon Trail. Continue on Coastal Trail a bit farther north, then bid adieu to the path and head oceanward to Ossagon Rocks.